[Screen It]

"PETER RABBIT"
(2018) (Domhnall Gleeson, voice of James Corden) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer-Animated Comedy: A mischievous, talking rabbit and his immediate family must contend with the new, bunny-hating owner of the vegetable garden they believe is theirs.
PLOT:
Peter Rabbit (voice of JAMES CORDEN) is a mischievous and assertive bunny who lives in a burrow with his sisters, Flopsy (voice of MARGOT ROBBIE), Mopsy (voice of ELIZABETH DEBICKI) and Cotton-tail (voice of DAISY RIDLEY) and their cousin, Benjamin Bunny (voice of COLIN MOODY). Peter is definitely the leader of the bunch and often leads them on raids through the next-door vegetable garden owned by Old Mr. McGregor (SAM NEILL) who's none too pleased with such trespassing. But when the man -- who previously caught Peter's father and turned him into a pie -- dies of a heart attack, Peter, his family and the rest of the animals think they now have it made with unfettered access to the veggies as well as the man's large house.

Little do they know that the man's great-nephew, Thomas McGregor (DOMHNALL GLEESON), recently fired from his job running the toy department in London's Harrods department store, has inherited the small farm and intends to sell it in order to open his own toy story back in the city. Thomas arrives to find a mess and immediately sets out to keep the animals out, but his artist neighbor Bea (ROSE BYRNE) reminds him that the rabbits and the rest were there before any humans.

He's near instantly smitten with her and she eventually develops the same sort of feelings for him, all of which means Thomas must keep his war with Peter and his brood behind the scenes, all while the rabbit becomes ever more determined to drive out this new human interloper.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
In a perfect world, people would evaluate or judge things with a completely open mind free of biases, preconceived notions, expectations and the effects that one's day has had on them up to that point. The same holds true for movie reviewers, but let's face it, there's no such thing as that sort of ideal world and both internal and external factors can weigh heavily on one's opinion of any new movie.

Case in point is the latest adaptation of Beatrix Potter's beloved bunny story, "Peter Rabbit." While I appreciate the imaginative world and the characters contained within it that the English author created more than a century ago, I'm not a "PR" purist and thus don't automatically balk at any new version that's not one-hundred percent faithful to the source material.

That said, the hyper commercials and trailers for the film -- that inserts computer-animated critters into a live-action world -- didn't exactly have me clamoring to see this, what with the frenetic editing and "Home Alone" style slapstick antics on display. And I'm no fan of James Corden who provides the voice for the titular character as he often comes off as smug and trying too hard in his comedy attempts, not to mention that he was unnecessarily rude to me and my wife a few years ago at an award show.

And then there's the fact that I hate joint press/promo screenings where critics must sit with an audience where young children outnumber adults easily by a ratio of two to one. I don't have anything against kids seeing films - obviously, considering the sort of reviews we do here - and it's not that I've devolved into any sort of stereotypical "get off my lawn" old man crotchetiness.

It's just that I'm there to do a job and when kids are running around, talking, crying and in one particularly egregious case at our Saturday morning screening, literally screaming at the top of their lungs every few minutes, it becomes grating, annoying and hard to focus on the task at hand (in my case, jotting down lots of content-related notes for our Screen It reviews).

So, the odds were somewhat stacked against me liking this film just a few minutes after the lights dimmed. But there was always the chance that the work of those in front of and behind the camera would manage to win me over and overcome the various issues at hand. Alas, that was not meant to be as director Will Gluck -- working from a script he co-wrote with Rob Lieber -- has delivered a crass, short-attention-span offering of slapstick material designed only for young viewers weaned on and presumably desirous of such material.

And such flicks are often easy to spot by listening to the pop soundtracks usually slapped onto them as such songs - ranging from just a few to sometimes many years old -- are present to create artificial emotional responses to what is transpiring. While the likes of Martin Scorsese and others of his ilk can get away with that in certain movies, it usually points out that something is missing -- or just amiss -- in children's films. (At least the overused "Who Let The Dogs Out" didn't play here)

All of which is a shame not only because of the artistically unnecessary commercial bastardization of the source material, but also because the computer-generated renderings of the bunnies (and some but not all of the other creatures) and their insertion into the live-action footage is so good (and seamless) that you wish the story, writing and direction could have matched that work.

It certainly doesn't help that Peter isn't that likable of a character. Yes, Bugs Bunny was also a "rascally rabbit" who often used violence to foil the likes of Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd. But he had a charming, wink-wink, nudge-nudge aura about him that made him appealing.

Here, Peter behaves like a jerk and while he has a few softer moments -- mainly recalling his late parents who appear in brief watercolor type animations straight from Potter's earlier works -- and finally realizes the error of his ways and sets out to make things right, he's not that likable and often comes off as annoying rather than cute, charming or funny. Which also holds true for most of the film that occasionally gets things right, but otherwise could leave some viewers in a worse mood upon leaving the theater than when they arrived. "Peter Rabbit" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 3, 2018 / Posted February 9, 2018


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